Late in March 1918, the Germans struck hard, and immediately had the British reeling back in disarray. Had they and their French allies been driven apart, the British might have been forced to evacuate their whole front. At worst, this could have resulted in a decisive German victory on the Western Front, and perhaps an end to the war.

To help stem the tide, the Australians were rushed to the threatened sectors. Near Hazebrouck in the north, and on the Somme, they played an important role in containing the Germans. Before Hazebrouck and Amiens, they protected key rail and communication centres, which if lost, might have led to a general collapse. On the Somme, the Australians’ tenacious defence at Dernancourt was followed by a stunning counter-attack at Villers-Bretonneux on 24 April. The German advance was halted, but the final outcome still hung in the balance.

“With our backs to the wall”

Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig’s order Special Order of the Day to all British and Empire forces for 11 April 1918 shows the desperate allied situation three weeks into the German spring offensive in March–April 1918. “Every position must be held to the last man…With our backs to the wall…we must fight on to the end.”


Men of the 9th Battalion keep clear of enemy shelling near the front at Hazebrouck in April 1918. The 1st Australian Division played an important role in stopping the German advance on this sector of the front. E02088